Bastard Cookbook questions the meaning of authenticity

Antto Melasniemi and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Photo: Janne Tuunanen.

Bastard Cookbook by Antto Melasniemi and Rirkrit Tiravanija, commissioned by FCINY and published by FCINY and Garrett Publications, is part cookbook and part culinary misadventure.

Originating from a shared appreciation for breaking the rules the Bastard Cookbook is a collection of texts, photo essays, and culinary scenarios – questioning the meaning of authenticity. Tiravanija and Melasniemi offer what one could refer to as an “adulterated” fare to its purist counterpart. This collaborative exploration into the realms of food and cosmopolitanism proposes that perhaps, the key to appreciating the idiosyncrasies of an unfamiliar culture, is through the hybridized form.

Photo: Petter Löfstedt

Antto Melasniemi has created a unique practice that weaves together food, design, art, and music. Before entering into the world of gastronomy, he was better known for his musical talents, and as a member of the Finnish gothic metal band HIM, that toured internationally throughout the ’90s. Cooking was never the original plan, but creative activity was. Initially, culinary school seemed to him like a good way to avoid ‘school’ itself. His proclivity towards escapism led him to his first job in a kitchen. What began as escapism became a way of life.  Today, in his hometown of Helsinki, he is the founder of five restaurants, having contributed significantly to the city’s status as one of the most exciting food destinations in Europe.

It’s no surprise that Antto would connect with Rirkrit Tiravanija, another nomad using the textures of life around him to change the rules of the game. Tiravanija grew up in Bangkok, was educated in the Western system in art and history, and currently lives between New York, Chiang Mai, Berlin, and Mexico. He creates things that both attract and distill life. Though his work is realized through a variety of means and processes, much of it, from his early works of the 1990s to today, involves cooking. For the first group exhibition he was invited to at Scott Hanson Gallery in New York, he created the seminal work untitled 1989 ( ). During the opening of the exhibition, the artist prepared a green curry using an electric coil burner and a ceramic pot on one of four white pedestals, leaving his cooking utensils as well as the remnants of the curry behind on the remaining pedestals. Over the course of the exhibition he would appear periodically and cook a new pot of curry.

Photo: Petter Löfstedt

Although their respective worlds were different, both Tiravanija and Melasniemi were each interested in exploring the kaleidoscope of culture that globalization had made omni-present, and representing it in what they produced. The pair first met in 2011 when both were asked to participate in an art and food event at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Soon thereafter, they were exchanging ideas about how to combine their respective styles, and they began to meet up to cook together at galleries and institutions in Bangkok, Venice, Stockholm, Basel, Singapore, Miami, Hong Kong, New York, and elsewhere. It was one balmy summer night after successfully serving a two hundred-person dinner that they became known by the moniker “Bastard Brothers.” At that moment, a more complete vision came together around what they were accomplishing through these collaborations. Delineating between their respective worlds of food and art became irrelevant. The sequence of wild collaborations that resulted in the merging of their visions was here to stay.

The Bastard Cookbook is part cookbook, part collage of culinary misadventures. It is an exploration of comradery, improvisation, and cosmopolitanism. It is the synthesis of various impurities, sullied nights, and ‘wrong’ combinations of ingredients. The recipes are the products of two bastards from different backgrounds and life experiences who found kinship through the imaginative space of cooking and the freedom that making art provides.

The Bastard Cookbook is a manifesto with a global vision in mind, and in which recipes laden with time are recast. In the book, Tiravanija and Melasniemi offer what one could refer to as an ‘adulterated’ fare to its purist counterpart. The recipes in the Bastard Cookbook offer a range of bastardized flavors: spaghetti with sai ua sausage, spicy Nordic meatballs, and curry pizza, to name a few. They eschew the sanctity of tradition for their imaginative bastardized style. Pad Thai macaroni? The bastards.

Photo: Janne Tuunanen

Photo: Janne Tuunanen

The book includes interviews with the chefs, and features those they met while testing out these recipes, along with contributions from food studies scholars and journalists.

Krishnendu Ray, author of multiple titles focusing on food, culture and globalization, Chair of the Food Studies Program at New York University, and editor of the leading journal of critical food studies Gastronomica, contributes a new text. In ‘Learning to Care,’ Ray reflects on ideas related to bastard cooking through the lens of domestic labor around the kitchen and home, and from the perspective of a single father in New York City.

Sara Kay, a New York-based food writer and educator offers a follow-up to her recent article published in Eater on authenticity language in Yelp restaurant reviews – material for which came through her research at NYU that culminated in her thesis, Authenticity in Online Ethnic Restaurant Reviews: Revealing Conflicted Nationalism in Multicultural Consumption.

New York-based curator and writer Lola Kramer offers an introduction to the book, interviews the Bastard Brothers and shares stories from Thailand’s Chiang Mai, where the chef-artist-duo dwelled into the making of this book in January 2019.

Helsinki based journalist Pauliina Siniauer writes about Finnish rye bread, baked with the healing hands of a Moroccan baker, and Kaarina Gould, Executive Director of the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, and commissioner of the book interviews Melasniemi through her lens of a friendship spanning over a couple of decades.

Images of the bastard’s luscious results, their ingredients, and preparation, as well as the chefs’ adventures in bastard cooking, by Finnish photographer Janne Tuunanen, illustrate the book. Through his lens, Tuunanen shares what our culture will hopefully increasingly look like: less monochromatic, less homogenized.

Partially edited from Introduction: Bastards Beware by Lola Kramer

Photo: Petter Löfstedt

Bastard Cookbook

Antto Melasniemi and Rirkrit Tiravanija

Photography by Janne Tuunanen
Edited by Kaarina Gould and Lola Kramer
Contributing texts by Kaarina Gould, Sara Kay, Lola Kramer, Krishnendu Ray, and Pauliina Siniauer

Designed by Stefan Engblom and Johanna Lundberg

Published by Garret Publications and Finnish Cultural Institute in New York

Distributed by Idea Books

Follow Bastard Brothers on Instagram: @bastardcooking

Photo: Petter Löfstedt